Being a full-time student while juggling work can be a challenge for most students. However, tackling a whole other set of unique challenges such as a lack of financial resources, a sense of isolation, and the fear of deportation is another struggle. All of these concerns weigh heavily on those students who fear the Trump Administration’s undefined concept of deportable undocumented individuals.
“There is this dichotomy formed of ‘good’ immigrant versus ‘bad’ that is so hurtful,” said senior Alma Corado. Corado and her family immigrated to the United States from Guatemala about eighteen years ago to escape poverty. Due to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy, Corado has been able to further her education despite being categorized as a non-U.S. citizen.
For DACA students, talking about their status with their peers can be difficult. “Growing up in Indiana, there weren’t people who looked like me, or talked like me so there was no one I felt connected to,” Corado said. “There was no cultural context that addressed immigration. Legal status was not something to be discussed. So, I never really felt comfortable disclosing my status with others.”
When it came to thinking about the possibility of pursuing a higher education, Corado felt lost as she struggled to get out of the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Financial aid seemed impossible given her status and demographics, so Corado attended community college until she found out about privately funded institutions.
Junior and History major Gaby Gil also immigrated from Guatemala at the age of nine with her two older siblings to reunite with her parents. She had not seen her father for eight years and her mother for four years “Being away from my parents for so long and the culture shock was probably one of the most difficult things I experienced,” said Gil.
Gil, like Corado, disagrees with the political distortion of being labeled an undocumented individual. “Even if I were to fully strip myself from my own culture and identity, it still wouldn’t be enough because the undocumented community has been tainted with the word ‘criminal’. This has silenced so many voices, including my own,” Gil said.
Gil recalled feeling discouraged to seek resources in the public school system growing up, but now at Whittier she feels empowered to make a difference. “I hope that the future of immigration policy will address immigration in a more humanitarian way,” said Gil. “I would like for there to be greater representation for my community.”
Another Whittier DACA student is sophomore Sociology and Spanish major, Cristian Alcantara. He’s been feeling a sense of uncertainty about the future of undocumented students after this recent election. “Last semester I felt like I had to fight a little more to be part of the campus because I felt a disconnect between me and some other students on campus,” Alcantara said. “They were open-Trump supporters who really lacked a sense of compassion for others who have gone through different experiences. But I have a really strong support system among my friends here and among faculty and staff who understand my status and the challenges we face, which I really appreciate.”
Alcantara came from San Mateo Atenco, Mexico. Both his grandfather and father worked for a trash company and would bring home scraps, food, and jewelry they collected for keepsake. The poverty Alcantara and his family faced lead his father to migrate north. Soon after, Alcantara and his mother followed his father to the United States.
After seeing that Whittier College offered the Whittier Scholars program and the opportunity to integrate both Sociology and Spanish, Alcantara knew Whittier was his best choice for college. “I always struggled with finding resources,” Alcantara said. “So, I always had to find ways of finding them on my own. Whittier financial aid was not helpful first semester. I had trouble paying for school and I almost ended up withdrawing. The financial aid process is always stressful each new academic-year.”
Alcantara mentioned the recent arrest of a DACA student in Texas, saying he felt weary for other students and himself living in urban outskirts who are at risk of being caught by immigration services. “There was a discussion in class in which we mentioned that the Obama administration opened up floodgates for deporting even those who have the lowest misdemeanors,” Alcantara said. “Recent policy changes make it easier to deport anyone, so it raises the chance of getting deported. It is pretty scary.”
In recent weeks, students have drawn up a petition and collection of sources in order to push for Whittier College to become a “sanctuary campus.” This would mean the College would take a formal stance to protect (within legal parameters) its undocumented students against the threats of deportation. As of now, the College’s Board of Trustees are deliberating on their decision.
Alcantara revealed that he has met some students on campus who are against the idea of making Whittier College a ‘sanctuary campus.’ He says one student had reportedly cried out “‘F*** no,’” in class.
Despite this, Alcantara hopes that Whittier College will support this cause in helping promote both a safe space and more resources for undocumented students on campus. “The petition will offer a really big relief to us as undocumented students who feel afraid in these times of being targeted and deported,” Alcantara said. “There is so much uncertainty right now that it makes it hard to plan for the future when you are not sure about what is going to happen tomorrow. But knowing that I could help my parents through my education motivates me everyday.”
With the upcoming graduation ceremony in May, Corado, a first-generation college graduate along with other DACA students want to be an advocate and ally to others through thier education.
“It means the world to me [to be able to graduate],” Corado said. “My future and education are interchangeable. It is something my parents could be proud of. It makes their sacrifices worth it.”